It is a strange tradition in the EPL that the voting process for the Player of the Year Award takes place before the season itself concludes its business. Already, as I write this blog, the votes are being dutifully collected within the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) to see who will follow in the illustrious footsteps of Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish and Peter Shilton.
There have been some notable performances during the 2012/13 campaign; Marouane Fellaini began the season in imperious form, Eden Hazard and Oscar have adapted quickly to the physical demands of the EPL and will be better for it come next year, Michael Carrick has enjoyed, in my opinion, his most consistent year for Man Utd, Rickie Lambert’s goals could yet prove decisive in Southampton’s battle for survival, Daniel Agger has shown his quality in a rare season free from injury, Jan Vertonghen’s leadership and skill has provided a solid base from which Spurs have attacked the EPL top-four and the Europa League, Jonny Evans has emerged as a reliable EPL defender at Old Trafford and Leighton Baines has reinforced and enhanced his blossoming reputation at Everton.
But, in my opinion, there are five valid candidates for consideration as Player of the Year. One of Michael Laudrup’s first acts on appointment as the manager of Swansea City was to unearth the Spanish gem that is Michu for a ridiculously cheap £2.5M! Fifteen goals later, in just twenty-seven EPL games, and Michu, the unheralded replacement for £8.8M Spurs substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson, has proved to be a steal as the Welshmen continue to establish themselves as a genuine EPL force. Victory in the League Cup Final – in which Michu inevitably added his name to the historic list of Wembley goalscorers – and thus securing European football for next season was the icing on the cake of a fine debut campaign for the artist formerly known as Miguel Perez Cuesta.
Juan Mata has emerged from the carnage of a chaotic season at Stamford Bridge to confirm his presence at the very top table of English football. He brushed off the self-inflicted instability of Roman Abramovich’s very public desire to replace European Champions League winning coach Roberto di Matteo with just about anyone else during pre-season. Then he maintained his consistently high standards while the hapless RDM was eventually thrown to the lions after Chelsea’s capitulation to Juventus signalled the end of their inept ECL defence. Then, perhaps worthy of most recognition, he managed to retain his standing as the bright, shining light of optimism and hope through the tin-hat turbulence and routine abuse from supporters during the reign of Rafa Benitez! Seventeen goals in all competitions for Chelsea coupled with twenty assists is no mean feat and could yet result in an unlikely cup-double to salvage a drop of pride from a calamitous campaign.
Gareth Bale has virtually single-handedly injected a turbo boost into Spurs quest for an EPL top-four finish, he has propelled them into a likely quarter-final place in the Europa League and has seen AVB’s men installed as one of the favourites for that competition. Bale’s post-Christmas form has attracted reported interest from the most prestigious European clubs and his transfer value has simply rocketed into the stratosphere! Twenty goals and eight assists is an impressive tally, but I would argue Bale’s form pre-Christmas was patchy at best. As much as Marouane Fellaini’s early season form had him touted as a potential PFA Player of the Year candidate only to see his standards decline in recent weeks, so Bale’s lethargic start to the year would also exclude him from consideration for a season-long award, despite his current heroics.
Where would Liverpool be without Luis Suarez? Where would Brendan Rodgers’ project be without the controversial Uruguayan’s twenty-nine goals and six assists so far in 2012/13? It is unarguable that Suarez carried the entire Liverpool attack for the first five months of the season, thrust into a lone-striker role after the club’s inexplicable decision to allow Andy Carroll to depart without a replacement arriving at Anfield. And, in stark contrast to accusations of wastefulness in front of goal during his previous seasons, Suarez raised every aspect of his game and brought a clinical edge to his finishing to keep a floundering Liverpool afloat before being belatedly supported by Daniel Sturridge’s January arrival. The target of a top-four finish is beyond Liverpool and their cup performances have been poor, but Suarez gives hope that there could be brighter days around the corner at Anfield.
Where would Man Utd be without Robin van Persie? Twenty-three goals in all competitions is a remarkable statement of intent in your debut season at a new club; perhaps RVP’s trophy drought at Arsenal inspired him to secure silverware as quickly as possible? It is not often that a £22M transfer fee for a 30yr old player proves to be a snip, but how Roberto Mancini and Man City must curse Sir Alex’s shrewd and decisive acquisition of RVP. Is it fair to say he has proved to be the difference between the two Manchester clubs? I think there is little doubt that the 12pt cushion enjoyed by Utd would be a good deal thinner had RVP signed at the Etihad rather than Old Trafford….but equally I think City have been poor this season, resting on their EPL title-winning laurels while Sir Alex and Man Utd acted on that last-minute heartbreak, and I believe their problems run much deeper than simply one player. RVP brought a ruthless edge to Utd’s attack – no more evident than with his spectacular last-ditch free-kick to snatch a 3-2 victory over City at the Etihad! A record 20th EPL title is already secured for Man Utd, an FA Cup Final and a potential league/cup double may yet materialise too! RVP’s form of late has dropped slightly from his prolific early-season and winter exploits – drawing a blank in each of his last six matches – and Man Utd’s European adventure was ended prematurely by Real Madrid.
But, in my opinion, silverware is the decisive factor and it is for that reason, with a slightly heavy heart bearing in mind my Liverpool loyalties and Suarez’s outstanding contribution to our season, that I feel the worthy winner of the PFA Player of the Year Award for 2012/13 to be Robin van Persie!